WASHINGTON – Two top Al Qaeda bigwigs were among those captured by U.S. soldiers as American forces closed in and continued their aerial assault on an enemy cave complex that could have come straight out of a James Bond movie.
Besides prisoners, American ground forces confiscated laptop computers, cell phones and training documents the Pentagon hopes will help them win the war that terrorists started, military officials said Tuesday.
The two high-ranking Al Qaeda officials were among 14 fighters who surrendered without a fight to U.S. forces near the eastern Afghanistan city of Khost, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"They were the ones of interest that we thought were senior enough where they might have the kind of information that we're looking for in terms of ... future operations and so forth," Myers said at the Pentagon briefing.
The two were transferred to a detention center at Kandahar, where U.S. officials have been interrogating other suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The other 12 remain in the custody of Afghan officials, the general said.
Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes continued their heavy-duty aerial assault on a huge cave complex filled with tanks and weapons. Late Monday, they launched two new strikes on additional buildings and caves, or bunkers, found in the area, Myers said.
An F-14 dropped two precision-guided bombs on one building, and an F-18 dropped two more guided bombs on a bunker, he said.
American warplanes recently have struck repeatedly at the cave complex and at other areas around Khost. U.S. special forces teams are on the ground in that area, where a Green Beret soldier was killed in an ambush Friday.
Khost is in Paktia province, which has long has been known as an area where Al Qaeda terrorists had a large training-and-supply complex. U.S missiles this week hit a camp that was already struck by American missiles in 1998 in retaliation for the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, which the U.S. blamed on Al Qaeda guerrillas.
Once U.S. forces were able to explore on the ground there, they found the complex much bigger than previous intelligence had indicated, Myers said.
"We have found this complex to be very, very extensive. It covers a large area," Myers said. "When we ask people how large, they often describe it as huge."
Earlier, officials said three more people identified as top Al Qaeda leaders are believed dead in the fighting across Afghanistan.
Abu Hafs the Mauritanian, also known as Mahfouz Ould al-Walid; Abu Jafar al-Jaziri, also known as Omar Chaabani; and Abu Salah al-Yemeni are believed to have been killed, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Abu Hafs was believed to be about 26 and had ties to Al Qaeda terrorist operations. Al-Jaziri and al-Yemeni were logistics coordinators for the terrorist group.
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who ran some of bin Laden's training camps, has been captured, the official said. Other details were unclear.
Officials will soon transfer the first batch of detained suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda members to a new site being built at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Until then, U.S. forces guarding the fighters inside Afghanistan are being extremely careful, aware that the fighters are willing to die in order to attack Americans, Myers said.
"Obviously, any time you have detainees who will sacrifice their life to kill you or what you stand for ... that's the most dangerous type of individual you can have in your control," Myers said. "It's a security issue you need to deal with. ... The folks at Kandahar are dealing with that security issue."
In all, U.S. forces are holding 364 suspected Taliban or Al Qaeda members, he said. One detainee previously held aboard a U.S. ship had been moved to the airfield at Bagram, near Kabul, because the United States could better interrogate him there, Myers said. He would not elaborate on what that meant.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.